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Bubble Banter: Tracking Bracketology for the weekend in college hoops

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February is here!

And now that we are nearly halfway through conference play, it is time for us to get fully invested in the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster or @phillipshoops.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Mississippi State, Washington, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas, Baylor and Syracuse.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

INDIANA (NET: 50, SOS: 53): Earning one of the most massive wins of the college basketball season with an unlikely road win at Michigan State, the Hoosiers now put themselves back in the bubble spotlight over the next several weeks. It would have been easy to leave Indiana for dead after a seven-game losing streak and the loss of senior forward Juwan Morgan to a shoulder injury in the first half against the Spartans, but they pulled off the overtime win to get another Q1 victory.

The Hoosiers are now 3-8 in Q1 contests, but those three wins come over Michigan State, Marquette and Louisville — three top-15 teams entering Saturday. Although the 3-1 Q2 mark helps the Indiana cause, they need to continue to pile up wins in order to build a more consistent profile.

Upcoming games for Indiana will be full of NCAA tournament-caliber opponents — meaning the Hoosiers will have ample opportunities to continue to win games to build their case. But Morgan has to be healthy, and Indiana has to avoid another pitfall like a long losing streak. If this win ignites them into a stretch of winning, then this might have been the game that saved Indiana’s season.

BUTLER (NET: 54, SOS: 21): Butler pulled off the most critical win of the early games by not only adding to its credibility, but also taking Seton Hall down a peg with a two-point Big East win over the Pirates. Entering this game, many had Seton Hall ahead of Butler in the NCAA tournament spectrum. This win gives the Bulldogs some immediate help. Also stopping a three-game slide that derailed a decent Big East start, Butler earned the kind of win that they had to have to stay in the NCAA picture. With three of the next four coming on the road — including St. John’s and Marquette — the Bulldogs escaped with a close home win they desperately needed to stop a rough stretch.

Butler is now a respectable 5-3 in Q2 wins — making up for a 1-6 mark against Q1 teams that the Bulldogs can’t seem to beat. There’s more work to do, but Butler did what they could in this one to stay alive.

WASHINGTON (NET: 29, SOS: 46): Riding an 11-game winning streak, Washington is unbeaten in the Pac-12 at 9-0 after a home win over UCLA. The victory over the Bruins is only a Q3, but it maintains an impressive streak from the Huskies that doubles as perhaps their best argument. Although Washington is only 1-4 in Q1 scenarios — with limited chances thanks to the Pac-12’s dreadful lineup — they’re an undefeated 17-0 in other games. The 4-0 in Q2, mostly a byproduct of beating up on Pac-12 teams on the road, also looks good in comparison to other teams who are struggling in that department. The next three games sees Washington on the road — including a dreaded two-game swing through Arizona and Arizona State — as it could ultimately decide if they’re off the bubble for the time being.

SYRACUSE (NET: 45, SOS: 33): Since Pitt is riding some strong numbers and a solid season, Saturday’s ACC road win qualified as a Q1 win for the Orange. Putting them at 3-2 in Q1 situations, Syracuse is now 7-4 against the top two quadrants as they’ve continued to add stability to the postseason profile. With four of their next five games coming at the Carrier Dome, now is the time for Syracuse to string together a streak to firmly put them in the field of 68. The stretch includes four games against ranked teams in the next five games, but Syracuse is capable of making a serious dent in that span.

OHIO STATE (NET: 37, SOS: 37): The Buckeyes did what they needed to do in taking down Rutgers for a Big Ten home win. Beating the Scarlet Knights — a Q3 win — isn’t going to do much to enhance Ohio State’s numbers. At this point in the conference season, however, the Buckeyes will take any win they can get. The five-game losing streak that recently ended can’t be erased. But Ohio State can fix a lot of damage from that by earning wins during a tolerable portion of the conference schedule the next three games (Penn State, at Indiana, Illinois).

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 46): Snapping a recent slide with a road win at Tulane, the Owls had recently lost three of their last four games. Temple only picked up a Q4 win for their troubles, but it puts them on a positive track. With a stretch of three winnable games coming up in UConn, Tulsa and SMU, the Owls could use more wins for added stability after a shaky day for the bubble.

VCU (NET: 52, SOS: 19): Four of five wins for the Rams after an A-10 home win over George Mason. The Rams are banking on a strong strength of schedule to help them, as this Q3 win doesn’t do much of anything. VCU will be an interesting team to track on the bubble the next few weeks with three of their next four games coming on the road — including a clash at Dayton.

CLEMSON (NET: 54, SOS: 24): The Tigers blew out a Wake Forest team that is not all that good on Sunday afternoon, which is good for a Q4 win. So there’s not much there. This was a game that Clemson, who is 0-6 in Q1 games, just could not afford to lose.

CREIGHTON (NET: 62, SOS: 6): Creighton beat Xavier on Sunday, meaning that they finished 2-1 on their three-game homestand and setting the stage for the most important three-game stretch of their season, as they head on the road for the next two weeks — at Villanova, at Seton Hall and at Xavier.

WOFFORD (NET: 31, SOS: 151): Although unlikely Wofford gets in as an at-large, the Terriers did what they had to do in pummeling The Citadel for a road win. The win just barely comes through as a Q3 win, since The Citadel is the No. 239 team out of No. 240 needed for a Q3 road win. So, if a lowly Citadel program keeps losing, this likely drops to another meaningless Q4 win for the Terriers. This week is when it starts to get interesting for Wofford, as they’ll have their unbeaten mark in the Southern challenged with a road game at 18-5 East Tennessee State.

BELMONT (NET: 67, SOS: 154): Extending the winning streak to five games with a win over UT-Martin, Belmont gets a Q4 win in the OVC. While the Bruins don’t have a great chance of an at-large bid at the current moment, they also have a favorable schedule coming up in February. Belmont has played most of the top OVC teams already and they have a chance to go on an extended winning streak if they get hot. Could the Bruins sneak into the field as an at-large? Based on how the bubble continues to look, they’re an intriguing case.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 36, SOS: 212): Staying unbeaten in the Atlantic Sun with a win over North Alabama, Lipscomb is doing what they can to provide insurance in the event of a conference tournament loss. With so many teams on the bubble having a bad day, the Bisons need to just continue to win games like this one. Even if it is a Q4 to a lowly conference opponent. With a nine-game winning streak, Lipscomb doesn’t get challenged much until a Feb. 13 tilt with Liberty. As long as they keep winning we’ll have to keep an eye on them with the bubble being so weak.

LOSERS

ALABAMA (NET: 43, SOS: 14): Getting blown out by rival Auburn on the road isn’t going to help the bubble cause for Alabama. But given the day of carnage with some of the other bubble teams losing and the Crimson Tide are still in far better position than many on this list of Saturday’s losers. The Q1 road loss at Auburn gives Alabama an underwhelming 2-5 mark against those types of teams and the puzzling 2-3 mark against Q3 teams also hurts. But the 6-0 record against Q2 teams is looking really solid. Alabama will still have plenty of chances to win against good opponents. For now, the Crimson Tide need to stop alternating wins and losses and get a streak going to get off the bubble.

SETON HALL (NET: 66, SOS: 28): Losing to Butler continued a sluggish stretch for Seton Hall in which they’ve lost five of their last six games. While the Bulldogs needed the win on Saturday more than the Pirates for NCAA purposes, this loss will still sting for the Pirates. Dropping to 5-1 in Q2, Seton Hall now has a blemish in that column as they’re similar to Butler in their struggles with Q1 teams (the Pirates are 2-6 in that category). With the sweep against DePaul also counting against them, Seton Hall needs to seriously start sweating after this miserable stretch. Two of the next three games coming against Creighton could prove to be important for both teams.

FLORIDA (NET: 39, SOS: 49): Things were looking so good for Florida for about 27 minutes against No. 7 Kentucky. Then the Gators imploded at home and dropped a huge, winnable game against the Wildcats in SEC play. Now at 1-7 in Q1 games, Florida simply can’t get the necessary quality wins to put themselves in safe position at this point in the season. Everybody recognizes the Gators having strong computer numbers and a good schedule, but it only does so much when Florida continues to lose to those teams. It doesn’t get much easier for the Gators the next few games when they go on the road to Auburn and No. 1 Tennessee.

NEBRASKA (NET: 28, SOS: 103): The freefall continues for Nebraska as they lost their fifth consecutive game. The Huskers fell behind double-digits and were soundly outplayed by a Big Ten bottomfeeder in Illinois on Saturday as things are starting to sour quickly in Lincoln. Sitting at “Last Four In” status in our latest bracket before this loss, this is not the type of Q2 loss that the Huskers can afford. Now only 3-3 against Q2 (and 2-6 against Q1 teams), Nebraska is seeing losses pile up while lacking a lot of high-quality wins. That’s a recipe that spells, “N-I-T” if things don’t quicky turn around.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 72, SOS: 78): Suffering a Big East road loss at DePaul, the Friars likely find themselves completely off of the next bracket update after being “Next Four Out” in the latest projection. Providence has two straight road losses as they now stand at 3-3 in Q2 losses after Saturday. Also at 1-4 in Q1 games (and with a bad Q4 loss to UMass), Providence is in a dire situation as we begin February.

PITTSBURGH (NET: 69, SOS: 58): An ACC loss to Syracuse might bury Pitt’s chances of an at-large bid as they have now lost five straight games while falling to 2-7 in the conference. The Panthers are only 1-7 in Q1 scenarios and 1-2 in Q2 — so they don’t have much positive momentum going their way at this point. Unless Pitt goes on a huge winning streak, it’s hard to envision them playing meaningful games in March.

SAN FRANCISCO (NET: 46, SOS: 175): Back-to-back losses have all but crushed the Dons’ hopes for an at-large bid, unless they go on another significant winning streak. Opportunities to nab Q1 wins don’t happen very often for San Francisco, as losing to Saint Mary’s is going to really hurt their postseason cause. Now 0-3 against Q1, the Dons likely have to win at No. 4 Gonzaga next game in order to have any kind of shot as an at-large team.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 43, SOS: 72): Falling to a top-flight team like Duke in a true road game actually enhanced a weak strength of schedule for St. John’s as the loss really doesn’t hurt them much. A win against a team of the Blue Devils’ caliber would have surely made the Red Storm feel safe. But now St. John’s falls to 2-4 against Q1 teams as they could use another win in that category to feel better going into March.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)